White House pushes for new privacy codes of conduct

Business participation in the privacy codes will be voluntary, but may be in their best interest, officials say

By , IDG News Service |  Internet

With the DAA commitment, Web users should expect that if they set their browsers to prohibit websites and online advertising networks from tracking them, that one request will be honored across the Web, Weitzner said. Consumers should be able to make the choice once and not have it expire, he added.

The White House privacy proposal focuses on giving Web users choices about whether websites and advertising networks collect their personal information and what they do with it. Web users have a right to expect that Web businesses collecting their personal information will keep it secure and will limit the type of information they collect.

Consumers have a right to "easily understandable and accessible information about privacy and security practices," the White House privacy paper said. In addition, consumers have a right to access and correct personal data held by online companies, the paper said.

The Department of Commerce has been calling for new privacy protections for more than a year, but Thursday's announcement, and the accompanying 60-page paper, represent the most concrete plan the Obama administration has released.

The announcement comes as privacy groups and state officials have raised concerns about changes that Google is planning to its privacy policy. Google plans to consolidate user identities across its services on March 1.

In recent days, privacy groups have also criticized Google for allegedly circumventing privacy controls in the Internet Explorer and Safari browsers.

Liebowitz said he's aware of the concerns about Google's privacy policy, but he declined to comment on any potential FTC action.

Privacy group Consumer Watchdog praised the White House privacy announcement, although the group had not seen the proposals as of Wednesday evening.

"From what I understand to be in it, the report may represent real progress," said John Simpson, privacy project director for the group. "Enforceable codes of conduct could matter.  Baseline privacy legislation could make a difference."

Simpson said he's skeptical of an effort that will allow online companies to participate in the writing of privacy codes of conduct, and he questioned whether the Department of Commerce, with the job of promoting U.S. businesses, is the right agency to drive the privacy standards.

"The real question is how much influence companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook will have in their inevitable attempt to water down the rules that are implemented and render them essentially meaningless," he said.

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